With a new term about to begin, it’s time for a poser: Why do people become politicians, asks Westminster pundit Will Mapplebeck
Well, first off, It’s not the money. After all, the vast majority of our nation’s elected officials aren’t exactly minted. Remember, there are far more councillors than MPs, MSPs and and AMs and most of them are paid allowances that don’t even touch the average national wage for ‘normal people’ of £27,600.
The money only starts to get seriously good at the peak of Westminster politics – the political equivalent of the Premier League. But a mid-ranking cabinet minister still struggles to take home over £130,000, peanuts in terms of other areas of public life. High profile ministers in other UK national parliaments aren’t on serious money either. Successive PMs should be on around £200,000 but choose to take less, because to claim their full allowance would be politically toxic. The fact is that wages for the top job have been artificially deflated over the years due to the ‘bad optics’.
There’s no doubt some national politicians do remarkably well, particularly after leaving office, but for every George ‘five jobs’ Osborne there’s forty parish councillors beavering away on planning applications and earning the equivalent of the former Chancellor’s stationery budget.
And it’s not the most secure of professions either. At Westminster level there are safe seats, but they are hard to get and once larger majorities, particularly for the blue tribe, seem more vulnerable due to the Corbyn effect and boundary changes. Remember, Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s political career almost came to a juddering halt back in June when she came within 400 votes of losing her seat.
And even if you do beat the odds, get a safe-ish seat, work all the hours God sends making it through to cabinet or shadow cabinet level, one single lapse of judgement can spell career Armageddon. Sarah Champion found this recently, but there are other once household names who have fallen even further. Anyone remember, Simon Danczuk, Ron Davies and Neil Hamilton?
And along with the poor pay, the job insecurity and the terrible hours you can add in a whole range of other reasons not to do it, everything from the public probably won’t like you to the fact that particularly at a national level you will be subject to serious scrutiny. There’s obviously the allure of office, but many who embark on political careers get nowhere near the corridors of power. Instead, they find themselves fielding hostile questions about the green belt in their local leisure centre on a Friday night.
But despite that there are no shortage of people wanting to be candidates. Recently 11 people – yes, eleven – applied to be leader of UKIP. The political equivalent of rushing up to the bridge of a doomed Titanic and asking Captain Smith if you can have a go at getting the ship to New York.
I’m afraid it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that most of our elected officials must do the job because they think they – and the parties they support – can make a difference. Touchingly uncynical, I know, but there we go.
In the meantime, some careers advice. If you want money, power and fame, don’t even think about elected office.